Choosing to build a family through adoption is a wonderful thing. But understanding the types of adoption available, who can adopt, and the process to adopt can be daunting. Here is everything to know about adoption in Maryland.
Types of Adoption
In the state of Maryland, there are three kinds of adoption possible: domestic, foster, and international. Families pursuing private domestic adoption will work independently or with a private agency to match with a birth mother and adopt an infant. Families interested in adopting from foster care will work with the Maryland Department of Human Resources. On any given day, there are 4,800 children in the foster care system in Maryland. Of these, roughly 225 are legally free for adoption. Children in foster care have been removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect. Some children available for adoption are “at risk,” meaning the child is not legally free for adoption. Families may still wish to pursue fostering such a child, in the hopes the child becomes available for adoption, but reunification is always the goal in foster care. Typically the children available for adoption from foster care are of school age, and sibling groups are common. In fact, it is estimated that two-thirds of all children in foster care have a sibling who is also in foster care. Families adopting internationally can expect to adopt a child between the ages of 6 months and 16 years. Age range varies depending on the child’s country of origin, as does the possibility of sibling groups. Internationally, special needs adoptions are the most common, with children ranging from minor/medically correctable needs to more severe/life-long needs.
Who Can Adopt
According to the state laws of adoption in Maryland, there is no minimum age to adopt. The state statute simply says “any adult may adopt,” but if prospective adoptive parents choose to work with a private agency the agency may have minimum age requirements. Singles and married couples are allowed to adopt, though, in Maryland, spouses must adopt jointly. There are no home residency requirements in Maryland. Families interested in pursuing an adoption from foster care must be at least 21 years old and have the financial means to support a child. Families choosing to adopt internationally will have their guidelines dictated by the child’s country of origin. Many international countries have a minimum, and maximum, age requirements, as well as marital status, income, education, and health requirements. Before committing to a specific country program, families should be sure to check with their agency to make sure they qualify.
The Home Study
In Maryland, there are three different kinds of adoption possible. Adoptions may be completed independently, through a private agency, or a public agency. Domestic adoption may be completed by any of the above, international adoptions must be completed by a Hague accredited adoption service provider (so private agency), and adoption from foster care is typically completed by a public agency. All three agencies have similar procedures to complete the adoption process.
To begin, every family must complete a home study. A home study is essentially a compilation of documents, references, and letters designed to illustrate the kind of home life the prospective adoptive parents would provide. In addition to the standard home study documents, in Maryland, three personal references, a sanitary home approval, a fire safety approval, a criminal background check, Child Protective Services clearances, and a background check will be required. During the home study process in Maryland, at least four in-person interviews will be conducted by a state-licensed social worker. The purpose of these meetings is for the social worker to get to know the family and to discuss with the family what kind of child adoption (domestic, international, or from foster care) would be the best fit for their family. Social workers help families identify the age of the child they are interested in adopting as well as a family’s openness to adopting a child with special needs.
Pre-adoption education parent classes are required but vary depending on what type of adoption families choose. For domestic, there are no guidelines, but 20 hours is typically necessitated by agencies. Families choosing to adopt internationally must meet both state and Hague pre-adoption education guidelines. The Hague typically requests an additional 20 hours of pre-adoption training. These additional hours focus on adopting a child transracially and transculturally and go deeper into parenting a child from institutional care. Families adopting from foster care must attend a mandatory 27 hours of pre-service training. Like international adoption training, the focus of foster care training relates more specifically to children who have suffered trauma, loss, and maybe struggling with attachment.
The Adoption Process
Upon the completion of a home study, families will be eligible to match with a child. This process varies depending on what type of adoption in Maryland a family chooses to pursue. Families adopting domestically will decide if they want to adopt through a private agency or independently. According to Maryland Family Law, independent adoption is permitted and no financial parameters are placed on the use of adoption consultants or independent adoption facilitators. The use of advertising is not addressed in Maryland adoption statutes so families may choose any marketing means of connecting with prospective birth parents that they wish.
Once a birth mother is identified, the prospective adoptive parents will work with either an adoption attorney or a private agency on the terms of the adoption. In Maryland, prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay birth mother expenses for adoption consulting, legal expenses associated with the adoption, and transportation expenses related to the prenatal care of the child or the legal aspects of the adoption. Prospective adoptive parents can also expect to pay for food, clothing, and cost-of-living expenses for the birth mother. Also, fees may be paid for food, clothing, and shelter if the birth mother is deemed to be unable to work (due to her pregnancy) by a physician. All fees will be presented in court before the adoption is finalized. Although there is no limit to the financial contributions prospective adoptive parents can make, a reasonable standard will be recognized by the court. Anything above the reasonable standard may be called into question before the finalization of the adoption.
Before the child is born the birth parents and the prospective adoptive parents will make a plan on how the day the child is born will proceed. Consent may be given at any time after the child’s birth, though typically a waiting period of 24 hours is observed. When consent is given, it must be in the language the birth parents speak. If the birth parents speak a language other than English, then consent must be given before a judge or in the presence of a person who can record that the translation of consent is accurate and acknowledged by all parties. Consent may be revoked within 30 days of signing. Upon revoking consent, the child will be returned to the birth parents. If consent is not revoked then, following post-placement reporting, the adoption may be finalized in court.
For adoption in Maryland, there is no putative father registry. A man is considered to be the father of the child, and given the parental rights therein, only if he has acknowledged his paternity in writing, he has openly recognized the child as his own, and/or he has married the child’s mother and determined the child to be his own. If no father comes forward and the birth mother does not change her mind, the adoption becomes irrevocable after 30 days. Maryland does maintain an adoption registry. Birth parents and siblings, as well as adoptees, may register for identifying information for anyone over the age of 21. Adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents may request non-identifying and medical information at any time.
Families adopting from foster care in Maryland will follow a slightly different process. Upon completing their home study and 27 hours of training, families will register with a photo listing site so that the caseworkers of the children represented may see what type of child the family is open to adopting. Families may either find a child through the state photo listing or have their caseworker find a child on their behalf. Once a child is identified, the caseworkers of both the child and the prospective adoptive parents will compare notes to see if the family is a good fit (and vice versa). Once a family’s complete home study is reviewed, and the family found acceptable to the child (and vice versa) a match will be made.
Once a match is made the family and foster child will engage in a series of pre-placement visits. The purpose of pre-placement visits is to introduce the child to the prospective adoptive family and for the family to meet the child and the child’s current foster family. During this time, a family may make arrangements to ease the child’s transition to their family, such as readying their home and signing the child up for school. Finally, the child will be placed with the adoptive family and a period of post-placement visits will begin.
Families adopting internationally will finish their home study, complete the Hague Convention requirement for pre-adoption parent training then work to assemble their dossier. A dossier is similar to the home study but all dossier documents will need to be notarized, apostilled, then translated for delivery to the central adoption authority of the country of interest. Once the dossier is assembled and accepted by the central adoption authority, the prospective adoptive parents will be eligible to be matched with a child. Typically, agencies will have their own matchmakers who will work with the central adoption authority’s database of children to identify a suitable waiting child. Some families may identify a child through sites like Rainbow Kids, but these children typically have more severe to lifelong special needs. Once a child is identified, the family will receive the referral then have it evaluated by an adoption medical specialist. Depending on the country, families will have anywhere from 36 hours to a couple of weeks to evaluate the referral. If a family accepts a referral they will move onto the immigration process and file to adopt the child within the child’s country.
For countries who are party to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, the adoption will be completed in-country, sometimes before the family even meets the child. For families adopting from non-Hague countries, such as South Korea, the adoption will be completed once the family returns to the United States. Regardless of the child’s origin, the prospective adoptive parents will apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to bring the child to the U.S. After meeting the child in-country, families will travel to the U.S. Embassy and there receive their child’s visa to immigrate to the United States. Upon entry into the United States, the child will automatically become a U.S. citizen.
All families who pursue adoption in Maryland will need to file a minimum of three post-placement reports for the first six months. Post-placement reports are filed by a state-licensed social worker and are conducted to ensure both the child and the new adoptive parents are adjusting well. If a domestic adoption occurred across state lines then the newly adoptive family will need to follow the post-placement reporting policies of their state of residency. Families adopting internationally will need to follow post-placement reporting guidelines for both Maryland and their child’s country of origin. International reporting times typically last between two and five years, though some countries insist on self-reporting until the child is 18 years of age. Families adopting from foster care will meet with their caseworker at least once every 30 days. This time affords a good check-in period for both parent and child. These post-placement meetings will continue in foster care until the adoption is finalized in court.
Finalizing the Adoption
Following the period of post-placement reporting, a family becomes eligible to finalize their adoption. The family’s state-licensed social worker will complete the necessary paperwork, and then the family will work with an attorney to present their case in Circuit Court. If the child is over the age of 10, the child will be asked if they consent to the adoption. Domestic adoption may be finalized after the six-month post-adoption reporting period is concluded. Foster care adoption typically will be finalized after the child has been with the family for at least 12 consecutive months. For families adopting internationally, if the adoption occurred in a Hague country the adoption has already been finalized in the eyes of both the U.S. government and the sending country’s government. Adoptions conducted in a non-Hague country will need to go through the process of re-adoption.
Adopting a child is not without its costs. With the average price of domestic adoption running between $20,000-$30,000 and international between $30,000-$45,000 the cost of providing a child with a forever home can be daunting. Thankfully, there are several adoption loans and grants available. The Adoption Tax Credit is another way to fund an adoption. But there is good news, families adopting from foster care can expect to pay little or no money to complete their adoption thanks to state-sponsored subsidies.
One final reminder. In the state of Maryland, post-adoption contact agreements are legally enforceable by law. So for those families adopting domestically, be sure to consider how much contact you are willing to maintain with your child’s birth parents before beginning the process and stick with it. Though not always comfortable, post-adoption contact benefits both the birth mother and your child (and you!) tremendously.
Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.